Ferrari was forced to play second fiddle to chief Formula 1 World Championship rival McLaren-Mercedes on the opening day of practice for this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit - but remains confident of fighting back when it counts.

With the drivers' and constructors' title battles alike balanced on an absolute knife-edge, every psychological blow now can be seen as a vital one, and Lewis Hamilton outpacing both scarlet machines in both free practice sessions delivered a strong message to the Scuderia that the Silver Arrows are already on it this weekend.

Hamilton's main rival for the crown, Felipe Massa, lapped second-quickest in the morning but just sixth in the afternoon, more than seven tenths adrift of the world championship leader. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was within seven hundredths of the Brazilian in both sessions - equating to third and eighth positions respectively.

"We did a good job and I think we will be competitive at the track," underlined a satisfied Massa. "The performance level improved bit-by-bit as the track got more grip. In the first session the car was a bit twitchy but then, especially in the second part of the afternoon session, its handling improved.

"I think we are working in the right direction in terms of car set-up. My aim for the weekend? Obviously I'll be trying to win, or at least to get as many points as possible."

"It was nice to see so many fans in the grandstands to celebrate my birthday," added Raikkonen, who turned 29 today. "As usual it's difficult to judge the relative strengths of the teams just by looking at the results sheets.

"At the start it could have been that our main rivals were quicker, but then the situation seemed to balance out and I think that's how it will be for the rest of the weekend. Overall the car's not bad, even if there are still some areas that need to be improved."

The Maranello-based outfit's team principal Stefano Domenicali and technical director Luca Baldisserri agreed that 'a day of hard work' now lies ahead in order for both Massa and Raikkonen to be in the best shape possible for a qualifying session that could be 'crucial'.

"Today we completed our usual Friday work," related Domenicali, "concentrating solely on fine tuning the set-up on both cars and on the comparison of the two types of tyres Bridgestone has brought here. We covered a big distance without experiencing any problems.

"It is always difficult to deliver an instant verdict. We played our part, but I have to say that our main rivals seem to be pretty much on the ball. Now we have to look at all the data acquired to be as well-prepared as possible for tomorrow's qualifying, which as usual will be crucial."

"A Friday just like any other," agreed Baldisserri. "The only difference worthy of note was the wind which changed in direction and intensity, thus making our track work a bit tricky at times.

"As for the rest, we got through everything on our programme, which means finding the best set-up on the two F2008s and the comparison - both over a single lap and over a distance - of the two types of tyre we have at this grand prix. We definitely face a day of hard work to be as well-prepared as possible for the rest of the weekend."

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